Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Increase Ritual                                                                                                                           

The Dreamtime beings have decreed the behaviours of their descendants, including the rituals, instructing the people on what should be done, sometimes how it should be done, implicitly or not. In many rituals there is also a practical, immediate aspect, The love-magic rites of the women are of this type, having the immediate aim of attracting a sweetheart or keeping a husband interested. This is one of a broader complex connected with the Dreamtime beings such as Chickenhawk, The Munga-munga girls (fair haired), Possum and even the Rainbow. Relations between men and women are regarded as vital to fertility. The Berndts report a woman saying when the djarada had come to Katherine in the Northern Territory, through Willeroo from the Victoria River country, 'When we sing about chickenhawk eggs and snake eggs, things like that, we want that chickenhawk, that snake to have plenty of eggs, plenty of young: and women too, plenty of babies. If some women want to sing for sweethearts, they can sing. But some want to sing for Dreaming. some of us don't want to sing for sweethearts all the time, we like to sing for Dreaming.' The various facets are apparent in the songs comprising this particular djarada: love magic, reference to actions first performed by the mythical sponsors, e.g., the encounter between the Munga-mungas and the night owl; and then fertility increase aspect.

Straight-forward increase rites are much more common, most of which are connected with the aforementioned cult totems. Rituals performed to maintain or renew the numbers of a particular species are carried out by men associated with that totem, sometimes with the assistance of others performing in subordinate roles. Totemic increase rituals were carried out throughout Aboriginal Australia. The complexity of the rituals varied from place to place, in some areas with a simple ritual, the performers may not be painted or decorated, and no special objects were used.

From Kaberry (1939: 203), "As the totemic ancestors passed through the country they left stones or sometimes a tree, each of which is supposed to contain the guning (spirit) of some animal, bird, fish, reptile, tuber, and so on. These sites are called bud-bud at Forest River, and wulwiny among the Lunga. By rubbing one of these or striking it with bushes and uttering a spell, the guning will go forth and cause the species with which it is associated to multiply."

The increase of a given species may be brought about merely by calling the appropriate name, as occurs in parts of the Kimberleys, and also in the Kimberleys, it can be caused by retouching the cave wall paintings of the animal. Another method is for men to drop blood from their arms onto a relevant site. Sometimes they try to produce an increase of a particular species by acting out aspects of its behaviour, or attempting to attract them. Some examples are provided by Elkin (1933: 73; 1954). One example comes from the Ungarinjin where "the increase of the various valuable animal and plant species and the maintenance of the operation of the various natural phenomena like the sun, moon, stars, wind and rain, is assured" by 'retouching the paintings in the various Wondjina (creative ancestral beings) galleries'. Increase is ensured when the paintings in caves and rock shelters are retouched, or new ones added, in western Arnhem Land. Elkin also reports increase rituals where stones are arranged in particular way, the designs each being associated with different species. Some places anoint these stone arrangements with red ochre or blood, or they may simply be disturbed. An example is the talu (increase) for honey among the Karadjeri, that is based on a mythical event. The ritual consists of the main men participating going to Nangula, which is a hole, where they brush it clean, then allow blood from their arms and subincised penises to drip into it. Some of the blood and dust mixture is then placed into small holes in a stick. They each place a stick with the blood-dust mixture in their hair until they place the sticks in various trees. The bees are expected to make their nests in those trees (Elkin, 1933: 37).

According to Spencer & Gillen (1938: 167-211), The intichiuma of the Aranda and neighbouring tribes are probably the best known increase rituals. During these rituals the participants visit the witchetty grub totem drawings at Emily Gap near Alice Springs, and other sacred sites, where special rituals are carried out. In the case of the witchetty grub totem sacred stones are uncovered, one of which represents the grub's chrysalis stage and another the egg of the beetle. The performers rub the stones on their bellies to indicate repletion. In another ritual, after clearing a small patch of ground, the men drip blood from their arm veins onto it, which dries to form a hard surface. The sacred design of the emu totem is outlined on this with white pipe clay, red and yellow ochre, and a mixture of charcoal and grease. These ground drawings are marked out with blood in the central west of the Northern Territory, then white and red feather down is used to decorate them. Strehlow, (1947: Plate 4) is an example of this. Men play the part of inniakwa, the emu ancestors, performing the ritual wearing of decorated tjurunga on their heads. The women can watch the proceedings from some distance, but run back to the camp when the men approach them. After the ceremony is completed they destroy the ground drawing. All local totemic groups have their own intichiuma ceremony, each differing in some way from the others. Blood is dripped onto a stone representing a mass of Hakea flowers in the Hakea Flower rite.

Among the Dieri, the mindari, that is associated with the muramura Warugadi, emu, there are 2 groups involved. These are wimabaia, 'song bird' and wimabili, 'song bag'. White pelican feathers are placed by the wimabili men on a large mud-flattened mound they have built, then black and red ochre dots are added. Four women from the 2 moieties are chosen who walk across the mound, which represents the body of the emu, during the afternoon ritual. After this all the men sing about the muramura, Emu, emerging from Lake Eyre to attend the mindari. At the conclusion of the singing, the ceremonial leader, a man from the emu cult totem, uses a club to break up the mound, the parts being said to look like newly hatched emu chicks, while asking the emus to breed. The ritual ensured there would be plenty of emus in season. When night falls, the women who walked over the mound bring water to the participants of the ritual, who are still on the ceremonial ground, which they take intro their mouths then spurt it over boomerangs, which belong to the muramura Emu, covered with red and black dots on the ground in front of them. The 'watering the boomerangs' ritual is intended to make the emus breed and lay eggs. After giving the water to the men the women return to the bush where the men visit them to have sex that is said to represent emus being fertilised.

Another example of an increase ritual among the Dieri focuses on the badi grub, that is found in the badara box tree. The ritual is associated with the myth of Wariliwulu, the Bat Man. Feathers are wrapped around the end of a navel cord, enclosed by a knitted bag that represents the grub, which is then hung in a badara tree. For the following 2 weeks a Wariliwulu cult totem man goes to the tree, sitting under it and, 'singing the tree' to make it green, in the hope the grubs will come, as well as to make the grubs breed and be plentiful in the country around the tree. The grub spirits were said to come from a waterhole they called Muharibalgabalgajagubandru, the home of the muramura Wariliwulu, who is also associated with the muramura Darana.

The rituals associated with increase range in complexity from the very simple, such as moving the sacred stone, or retouching a painting, to the much more elaborate, as with the intichiuma or the mindari. Mythological and totemic characters have connections with the increase rituals, and also with the ritual sites and objects. The aim of all the rites is to induce the mythological beings to use their powers to bring about the desired end result, increased number of animals or plants which increases the food supply. A special attitude towards the supernatural is required if the rites are to be successful in gaining an increase in the animals. To gain the desired results any ritual participant must have a special relationship with the totemic being, such as a cult totemite, in which context he is nearly always considered to be either a descendant or reincarnation of the spirit being. These beliefs are part of a coherent belief system, nearly all rituals and ceremonies are concerned with the relationship between the person and his environment, that is established and defined, as well as maintained, by the performance.

Blood may be used in the ritual, though it can be replaced by red ochre, both symbolising life and animation. The blood or red ochre release the spirits whose assistance is sought. Blood is usually significant in all types of ritual.

Sexual relations are symbolic of fertility in general, as well as with human fertility, and can take different forms around the continent. It is not always necessary to have actual sexual relations between men and women, it can instead take the form of simulated sex between male participants on the ceremonial ground. The inclusion of sexual relations, real or simulated, is much more common that is usually reported in the literature, according to the Berndts.

The increase ritual can be used to induce rain, not just the animals and plants required for food. On the northwest coast it may be used to get calm weather, as rough weather interferes with some types of fishing. In Cape York Peninsula it was sometimes used for a purpose that most would find strange, to increase flies that could be expected to annoy strangers. Sometimes it was used to increase leeches. Some rituals were usually performed just before the normal breeding season of the target species, while others were performed on any suitable occasion. Whenever the rites occurred, they were used to facilitate the normal processes of nature, not to change them.

Ara, the red kangaroo

Among the Aranda people of  central Australia Ara was a red kangaroo totemic spirit being from the Dreamtime. In the Dreamtime Ara made 2 journeys, one during the day and the other during the night. Along the track of the daytime journey he visited 14 totemic sites between Ajaii at the western edge of the MacDonnell Ranges and Krantji, the most sacred site connected with Ara, then continued on to Ara-perka at the eastern of the ranges. The nighttime journey took him from there, underground across the desert, as he could not live there, to ara-ngurunja in the far north. The increase ceremonies of the red kangaroo were held at Krantji, as it is the most sacred site of Ara. During the rituals, the rocks, trees and sacred hollows were struck to dislodge grains, each of which would become a red kangaroo when the next rain came.

Sources & Further reading

  1. R. M & C. H. Berndt, 1964 The World of the First Australians, Ure Smith Pty Ltd.
  2. Kaberry, P. M., 1939, Aboriginal Women, Sacred and Profane, Routledge, London
  3. Elkin, A. P., 1933, Studies in Australian Totemism, Oceania Monographs, No.2, Sydney (Oceania, Vol.III, Nos. 3 and 4; Vol.4, Nos.1 & 2)
  4. Elkin, A. P., (1954) (1st ed. 1938), The Australian Aboriginal People: How to Understand Them, Angus & Robertson, Sydney
  5. Spencer, B. and F.J. Gillen, 1938, The native Tribes of Central Australia, Macmillan, London
  6. Strehlow, T. G. H., (1947) Aranda Traditions, Melbourne University Press


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 28/06/2010

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